Books

Aquaman, Blooperman, Plastic Man, Bee-Man, Fatman: 'Hero-A-Go-Go'!

Former DC editor Michael Eury offers up a loving look at the age of high cultural camp in comics and more in this collection of campy curios.


Hero-A-Go-Go: Campy Comic Books, Crimefighters & Culture of the Swinging Sixties

Publisher: TwoMorrows Publishing
Length: 270 pages
Author: Michael Eury
Price: $36.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2017-05
Amazon
Debuting in 1966, Batman, according to Eury, helped usher in the idea of camp into the mainstream.
It’s a well-established fact that the '60s were a strange time. From the massive cultural shifts to the tenuous social and political climate to an unfavorable, unwinnable war, it seemed every day was yet another challenge. Much like our current climate, the daily news is approached with some level of trepidation and we seek outlets and distractions in our media, both social and traditional.

From this similarly tumultuous climate came the very ‘60s concept of camp. This wholly un-self-seriousness approach to television, movies, music and, as chronicled in Hero-A-Go-Go: Campy Comic Books, Crimefighters & Culture of the Swinging Sixties, comic books served as a form of light-hearted escapism from the harsh realities of the rapidly changing world. A reliance on the silly and outright absurd helped lessen the near constant levels of anxiety permeating the culture.

While television and film are often the most remarked upon in terms of camp culture -- how can they not with things like Batman and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and other, similarly absurdist bits of pop cultural ephemera? -- there was also a great sea change in the comic book world. Coming off of the oppressive restrictions imposed by the Comics Code Authority beginning in 1954, the ‘60s saw a gradual, tentative loosening of codes and what was deemed appropriate and not for youthful consumption. Though it would take several more decades to return to anything even remotely resembling the mystery and horror books that helped facilitate the perceived need for the CCA in the first place, the comic books of the '60s would begin to make their way out of the milquetoast rut of the preceding decade.

A lot of this had to do with the meteoric rise of Marvel and its books dealing with more realistic, humanistic subject matter within the context of its superhero titles. This approach stood in sharp contrast to DC’s more CCA-approved approach. In between all this, however, were a number of smaller publishers (Tower, Archie, Belmont, et. al.) that managed to split the difference between the two, resulting in an odds and sods assortment of colorful, campy characters. The Batman television program can be cited as a flashpoint for the rise of camp, its live-action bringing the BIFF!, BAM! and POW! from the page to the small screen with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Quite naturally, former DC comics editor Michael Eury uses Batman and his early hero-worship of its star, the late Adam West, as his jumping off point into the world of comic book camp. Here was not only a mainstream television program that turned into a ratings bonanza, but also one of the first truly successful comic book adaptations for television (and yes, Superman had been first, but it can be argued that it never had the same cultural cache as Batman). Debuting in 1966, Batman, according to Eury, helped usher in the idea of camp into the mainstream. While it had existed to varying degrees previously, it wasn’t until the tumultuous ‘60s that it truly took hold within the broader cultural dialogue.

Exhaustively researched and thoroughly enjoyable, Hero-A-Go-Go takes readers through all kinds of bizarre comics, story arcs, and one-off characters that could only come about when camp was king. When else would it have seemed the right time to introduce a character like, say, DC’s B’Wanna Beast, essentially a Batman of the jungle? The ‘60s also saw the not-so-triumphant return of characters long since abandoned, like Captain Marvel -- somewhat ironically not a Marvel title -- Dollman, the Shadow and the Fighting American and his trusty sidekick, Speedboy. This latter title in particular Eury points to as “the father of the Camp Age”, with its creator Jack Kirby responsible for a mind-boggling number of titles in the '60s alone, many of which were firmly rooted in camp.

And if these titles weren’t enough, Eury takes a look at nearly every ___man that came about. Aquaman, Blooperman, Plastic Man, Bee-Man, Fatman, to list but a few, are each given a respectful overview along with many of the artists and writers behind these less-than-memorable titles. Anyone enamored of the so-called Silver Age will find much to love throughout Hero-A-Go-Go’s visual-heavy cataloging of the decade’s campiest pop cultural ephemera.

Though comics serve as the book’s central focus, Eury focuses on the medium’s expansion into the worlds of television, film and popular music. From Jan and Dean Meet Batman to Lost in Space, Jerry Lewis films to The Archies (both of whom found themselves palling around with or facing off against superheroes of one kind or another), camp seemed to be everywhere, offering a much-needed escapism for both adults and kids alike. Through a series of essays and interviews with some of camp’s biggest names -- Lost in Space’s Bill Mumy chiefly among these -- Eury provides a 360-degree look at the cultural in which camp arose, focusing on its origins, its cultural saturation, and eventual dissolution as the Swinging Sixties gave way to the Me Decade.

From the most obscure (Herbie the Fat Fury) to the most head-scratchingly bizarre (Super LBJ and The Great Society comic book) and nearly all points in between, Hero-A-Go-Go: Campy Comic Books, Crimefighters & Culture of the Swinging Sixties offers a fun and light-hearted -- though thoroughly in-depth and very much in keeping with the spirit of the times -- exploration into an era looked upon with both amusement and bemusement. Canny connoisseurs of camp can consider this to be the closest they’ll come to the quintessentially campy qualities of the Swinging Sixties.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image